Starting out as a two-minute sketch on Idle’s post-Monty Python comedy show, Rutland Weekend Television, The Rutles took on a life of their own when Saturday Night Live supremo Lorne Michaels produced a feature-length “mockumentary” on the rise and fall of the Prefab Four.
A brilliantly realised parody of The Beatles, All You Need Is Cash – made for just $200,000 – told the story of Dirk, Nasty, Stig and Barry and their figure-hugging strides and took specific episodes of the moptops’ existence and lampooned them with style and hilarity.
Eric Idle played Dirk (modelled after Paul McCartney), Ricky Fataar played Stig (the George Harrison-inspired character), Neil Innes played Ron Nasty (based on John Lennon) and John Halsey was Barry Wom (real name Barrington Womble). The character’s truncated name was a play on how Ringo changed his name from Richard Starkey to Ringo Starr.
Whereas John Lennon said The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, Ron Nasty claims his band are bigger than God – only he’s been misheard and he means Rod, as in Stewart, who won’t be big for several years.
Cameos from the likes of Mick and Bianca Jagger, Paul Simon, George Harrison himself, Ron Wood, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray (as disc jockey Bill Murray The K) added to the fun, but the pieces de resistance were Neil Innes’ wonderful songs (Ouch!, Hold My Hand, Between Us, Piggy In The Middle, Cheese and Onions), affectionately packed with instantly recognisable Beatles motifs.
The humour proved too near the knuckle for Paul McCartney, who disliked Idle’s simpering portrayal and didn’t appreciate being asked Rutles questions while he was trying to promote the new Wings album, London Town.
Lennon had just one warning to Neil Innes: Get Up and Go (a parody of Get Back) was too close. Beware of the copyright lawyers.
Innes and Idle decided to leave the song in the film but removed it from the album.
The original airing on NBC did not perform well (up against the likes of Charlie’s Angels), but the British broadcast was so popular that the BBC repeated it almost immediately.
A VHS release in the 1980s brought The Rutles to an even bigger audience, and by the 90s, Innes, Fataar and Halsey were being feted at Beatles conventions in America.
As Lennon predicted, Innes was sued for plagiarism by ATV (owners of The Beatles’ publishing) and was forced to concede 50% of the royalties – and 100% of the copyright – for the 14 songs on the original Rutles album.
Idle ignored Innes’s counsel in 2002 and pressed ahead with a film sequel (Can’t Buy Me Lunch) which received dismal reviews.
Barrington ‘Barry Wom’ Womble
Chastity/Mrs Iris Mountbatten
H.M. the Queen
Bill Murray the K
Mrs Emily Pules
Blind Lemon Pye
Rambling Orange Peel
Stanley J. Krammerhead III Jnr